Meditating towards Differentiation of Self

Bowen has theorized, that each human being is the culmination of the mass of ancestors who have preceded her, each human being generations in the making, If we assume that is true, then, like a diamond, it may take a fair amount of excavating before we uncover the shiny nugget of “self” be-neath all the accumulated rock. When we look at humans, we tend to focus on their individual be-haviors or at best the individual within the context of their nuclear family. Bowen advocated getting information on as many as five generations of family history, in order to understand the patterns we observe. He advocated doing this so that we might see the patterns that have been active in our families and begin to distinguish between patterns that we have chosen and ones we may have simply inherited. Kerr in his most recent book describes one of the components of differentiation of self as “the phenomenon of thoughts and feelings operating as a working team”, those who are least differentiated have achieved the least separation from behavior driven purely by instinctual responses to others. Achieving more “self” requires distinguishing between one’s thoughts and one’s feelings, so that one’s actions more closely reflect one’s thinking, and are not merely a reflection of how we are feeling at any given moment.

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The Family Leader

Leaders are often described in terms of their individual characteristics:  special talents or knowledge, confidence, charisma, organizing ability and especially the ability to excite others around an important mission.  Some are “born leaders” and others work at developing leadership skills.  Leadership and followership are reciprocal functions in human systems. Leadership training programs abound, but I know of none on followership training which may be equally important.  One cannot lead if no one follows.

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A Proposed Alternative Pathway to a Bowen Theory of the Spiritual

In preparing for the Vermont Center for Family Studies’ upcoming conference on Meditation and Family Health (also available via streaming) I skipped ahead in my journey through Dr. Michael E. Kerr’s recent book, Bowen Theory’s Secrets: Revealing the Hidden Life of Families, to his chapter on the potential 9th concept of Bowen theory, “Toward a Systems Concept of Supernatural Phenomena”.  I’ll begin with a summary of that chapter before proposing an alternative pathway to a Bowen theory of the supernatural.

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Family-of-Origin Work: The Road to Maturity

At the Family Research Conference in 1967, Murray Bowen gave a presentation that was unusual for a professional meeting.  He had been seeking a way to teach family systems theory in a way that trainees could grasp.  He had also been “working intensively in a new phase of a long-term effort to differentiate my own ‘self’ from my parental extended family.”* He had reached a “dramatic breakthrough”* shortly before the conference. He decided to present his experience in his own family to his colleagues.  It was a very different kind presentation than expected and sparked surprise and much interest from the audience.  He described it as “a practical application of the major concepts in my theoretical and therapeutic systems (page 468).”* It was premised on the concept that the family emotional system is universal in all families, including those of family therapists.  Taking responsibility for defining oneself in one’s own family translates into greater maturity in one’s life overall, and is key to one’s effectiveness as a clinician.

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“Forward” to Death and Chronic Illness in the Family: Bowen Family Systems Theory Perspectives

The consideration of death, especially of one’s own mortality, has been a preoccupation of the human since the evolution of the wondrous primate brain allowed for the awareness of the future and so of one’s end. The reality of death is never far from consciousness. Along with the effort to understand life and how it came to be, the human has struggled to comprehend death and its meaning. It is a subject many seek to avoid considering and yet in one form or another it influences our daily lives.

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Bowen Theory Concepts Reflected in Poetry

Erik Thompson, MA, Director of the Vermont Center for Family Studies (VCFS) submitted to The Systems Thinker, two wonderful pieces of brief poetry, which he says adorned this year’s final presentation by a senior trainee Kammy Kelton, MA, a family therapist from Waterbury, Vermont.  Both poems are about family. 

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Select Abstracts from the upcoming 36th Midwest Symposium on Bowen Family Systems Theory and Therapy May 3rd & 4th, 2019

During the month of April, we will be sharing the abstracts of presentations that will be given at the Midwest Symposium, May 3 and 4, at the Lakeview Center in Gilson Park in Wilmette, Il.  We continue with the abstract by Victoria Harrison.

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Do We Ever Resolve “Unresolved Emotional Attachment”?

Bowen Family Systems Theory often seems counter-intuitive, making it sometimes difficult to grasp, and rarely self-evident. Comprehending an emotional systems perspective of families as a way of understanding engagement between people has little to do with stated intentions, and thus provides a constant challenge. I am always so impressed by certain individuals for whom the theory’s concepts immediately make sense, and who are then able to “see” relatively clearly in their lives many of the patterns Bowen described. While the concepts are theoretically clear to me, recognizing the emotional process in my own life remains frustratingly elusive.

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How I Understand Suggestions Dr. Bowen Gave Me

On February 22, 2019, I presented some early family of origin work in my keynote address on Death and Chronic Illness at the Clinical Application of Bowen Family System Theory Conference. This blog post addresses a key question raised during the discussion that followed my presentation.

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Grandparent Deaths in an Intense Extended Family Symbiosis

In the last two months or so, I have been studying symbiosis; e.g. parent-child symbiosis. Why? When I reviewed the quantitative research on families of schizophrenics, it was striking how symbiosis as a factor in development of schizophrenia has been neglected by all the quantitative researchers. It seemed odd when you consider how strongly Murray Bowen and other schizophrenia researchers of the 1950s had emphasized it. (Hill, Lidz, Mahler, Searles, Wynne, et al.).

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